The Edge of the World – Human/Nature

© Cameron Karsten Photography The Nature Conservancy at the Makah Reservation in Neah Bay, WA with Tribal member TJ

As soon as we could drive, my friends and I would pile in my ’78 two-tone brown VW Bus and head out to the edge of the world. It was so wet and so cold, I’d have to run the defroster on high the whole drive and have the windows cracked. With surfboards stacked inside, along the way we’d make the ritualized surf checks, turning our 3.5hr expedition into a full day. It’s was the journey and we always made the most of it, finding some wave, some beachbreak or rivermouth to get wet and catch a few waves.

Before the hype, we were often the only ones in the lineup. Maybe a sprinkling of locals or travelers, but otherwise, just us and the rolling fog beneath perched eagles staring off into the distance. Finally, after a long winding route, we’d make camp at the end where evergreen mountains and their scarred clearcuts dropped straight into the Pacific. It was where sea stacks stood the ultimate test of time, wavering to none but the water and wind. It was where gulls battled the chop and the bull-headed seals crested just beyond the break. They would come so close, emerging out of the murky grey waters, we’d often jumpstart with fear and begin paddling to shore until our hearts stopped thumping and we could laugh at each other. This was wild land; empty bone-chilling drip of strong tree stands whispering of a moss-strewn giant living among the hollows. Our edge of the world was Neah Bay and the Makah Reservation. Those were the memories.

© Cameron Karsten Photography The Nature Conservancy at the Makah Reservation in Neah Bay, WA with Tribal member TJ

I return as often as possible, to relive and resume the wildness at the edge of the world. With surfboard or camera, life is different at Neah. Society at large has discovered its open beauty, and the thrill called surfing has become mainstream even along the frigid fickle northwest shoreline. We’re never alone now.

Recently, I returned on assignment for The Nature Conservancy during a 14-month long book project titled Human/Nature photographing the beauty, the bounty – the legacy – and the joys of Washington culture. I drove Deborah Kidd, the TNC project manager, out along the route of my windswept memories where we met TJ Greene. TJ is a Councilman on the Makah Tribal Council, who escorted Deb and I to the northern plateau jutting into the Pacific just beyond town. It was ancestral land, an outcropping I watched for years as I lulled over the swells and scanned the horizon. He pointed out midden, un-excavated artifacts left over from centuries past, as well as various plants and bark species his ancestors used for medicine. And in a clearing at the absolute edge of the world, he pointed to where one of the Makah people’s original longhouses once stood. It was a moment, a whole experience, that put perspectives into perspective, my memories cemented into a new appreciation for where I have been and who I’ve become. All those laughs with friends. All those frightening drops on monster storm-brewed waves pumped straight from the cold waters of the northern Pacific, dropped directly onto my head. The wildlife. The soaking woods. The storms, foggy windows, wipers screeching frantically. Holes in tents, sand between our toes, books on a beach log at sunset. They formed a part of me, made me me. This place gave so much and I knew so little of it.

© Cameron Karsten Photography The Nature Conservancy at the Makah Reservation in Neah Bay, WA with Tribal member TJ

TJ brought me and Deb back into town and showed us around during the annual Makah Days celebration, where we ate cedar smoked salmon with potatoes and watermelon while watching canoe races in the bay. We slowed down to take in the moment; the sounds of laughter and shouts of encouragement, the millennia this land at the edge of the world has heard these sounds pass by.

For more information regarding Human/Nature visit The Nature Conservancy.

www.CameronKarsten.com

The Reefnetters of Lummi Island – Human/Nature

© Cameron Karsten Photography for The Nature Conservancy’s photographing reef netting with Riley Starks of Lummi Island Wild on Lummi Island, WA

To get to the island you take a tiny ferry. Max vehicle load around 15, maybe less. If I lived on the island, I’d have a canoe and do the short crossing for free. Once you’re on the island there is one main road that circumnavigates the land. Homes are rustic, beautiful. Driveways are quaint, simple, forested with evergreens. Everything is shrunken to the simplicity of truly small island living.

I was there to photograph the Lummi Island Reefnetters, a community of commercial fisherman/women taking part in an historical practice of harvesting wild salmon runs. Known as the oldest salmon net fishery in the world, it was begun by the First Peoples of the Pacific Northwest, where the angler watched the ebb and flow of the tides as the salmon came and went on their route to spawn, and used a net or trap once the fish were lured onto a “reef”. I honestly had never heard of it, albeit being a salmon-obsessed angler since I was 10 years old, I was immediately intrigued. I think of salmon and I think of a beautifully sculpted fish, muscular and angular for the perfect oceanic journey. From the rivers at birth to an epic multiyear voyage through ocean currents, and then back once and forever to the very freshwaters they were birthed in to create life again.

© Cameron Karsten Photography for The Nature Conservancy’s photographing reef netting with Riley Starks of Lummi Island Wild on Lummi Island, WA

I was told to ask for Riley Starks, a partner of Lummi Island Wild which sells reefnet-caught salmon and other seafood from the Salish Sea. He also owns and operates Nettle Farms, a small B&B established in 1992. The land was rugged as I pulled up, green and wild, but suitable to raise 50 different birds from chickens to turkeys. There were knotted fruit trees strewn about the earth and a solitude of a farm tucked into the forest. Riley himself cleared the land, and as we shook hands I could feel his calloused hands, thick with years of work on land and water. His beard was grayish-black and his stature short, he quickly threw a pair of rubber boots in his truck and told be to follow him down to the reefnets.

In about 5 minutes we were at his office, a beautiful bay facing south towards the San Juan Islands of Orcas and Cypress. We loaded up into a skiff and shot out to one of the anchored barges. It was a flood tide in a couple hours, simply meaning an incoming tide that brings in schools of salmon to the tidal bay. From there, they swim over an artificial reef suspended between two platforms. A spotter is stationed above the gear, watching and waiting until the school enters the reef, and then instructs to crew to draw up the nets. The salmon are enclosed, quickly hauled into small holding tanks, wherein the their gills are ripped out for a quick death. Any bycatch is released back into the water.

© Cameron Karsten Photography for The Nature Conservancy’s photographing reef netting with Riley Starks of Lummi Island Wild on Lummi Island, WA

I watched in amazement at the efficiency of the operation, as schools of salmon followed the tides and entered the reefnets, drawn in by glittering strands of line that gave an appearance of a reef emerging from the depths. All net gear was battery powered, charged via solar panels, making the whole operation completely sustainable. The skiff was the only gas-powered engine, which ferried the crew back to shore and the afternoon’s catch to an awaiting tender.

Within a few hours, the tides shifted and the crew cleaned the operations gear. We rode back to shore. I was fortunate enough to have brought my cooler wherein Riley placed two 8lb pink salmon on ice.

Shot on assignment for The Nature Conservancy for the book Human/Nature.

“End of the Line” Meta Magazine Issue #19

For more, visit www.cameronkarsten.com

Meta Magazine (A Life Well Ridden) – “End of the Line”

© Cameron Karsten Photography photographs Jann and Boe for Meta Magazine as they fly fish and camp while riding the WA Discovery Route in Washington State

This was not supposed to be my trip. A buddy of mine, Paris Gore, photographer extraordinaire and skilled pilot, called me up and dropped few details. He was out, busy with other projects, and knowing my flyfishing experience and love of motorcycles, he thought I’d be interested.

Honestly, I was hesitant. Unsure of the crew, the route, the timing, the COVID. I called the writer, Jann Eberharter, fellow angler and rider leading the charge. We chatted, and soon I was in. No need to blink. And thank god I didn’t because the proposed trip for Meta Magazine was a must.

Below is an excerpt from End of the Line, written by Jann Eberharter for Volume 19 of Meta Magazine (A Life Well Ridden):

“Darkness began to surround us as we rolled out of out sleeping bags on the edge of a beautiful stretch of water some 20 miles south of town. A big chunk of concrete served as a perch above the hole, letting us cast into the black abyss, wait for a tug, and then set the hook with a loud ‘Yeowww!’ The fish were hungry enough that we kept serving up an all-you-can-eat buffet of stimulators and chubby Chernobyls, prolonging our own dinner late into the evening.”

Visit www.CameronKarsten.com for more.

Cosa Buena in VOGUE Mexico

It brings great excitement and joy reflecting on projects that are not only culturally enriching, but visually stunning and successful. Our friend Vera Claire, founder of Cosa Buena, reached new heights networking and promoting their community-based work after getting published in VOGUE Mexico (as well as Architecture Digest and MEDIUM, among others). Below is a link to the article published in print and online, as well as a selection of other images from our time exploring the artisan-cooperatives of Oaxaca, Mexico. Someday, we’ll return.

PERFIL COSA BUENA-VOGUE MEXICO

© Cameron Karsten Photography in Oaxaca, Mexico

© Cameron Karsten Photography in Oaxaca, Mexico

© Cameron Karsten Photography in Oaxaca, Mexico

© Cameron Karsten Photography in Oaxaca, Mexico

© Cameron Karsten Photography in Oaxaca, Mexico

© Cameron Karsten Photography in Oaxaca, Mexico

© Cameron Karsten Photography in Oaxaca, Mexico

© Cameron Karsten Photography in Oaxaca, Mexico

© Cameron Karsten Photography in Oaxaca, Mexico

© Cameron Karsten Photography in Oaxaca, Mexico

© Cameron Karsten Photography in Oaxaca, Mexico

© Cameron Karsten Photography in Oaxaca, Mexico

© Cameron Karsten Photography in Oaxaca, Mexico

© Cameron Karsten Photography in Oaxaca, Mexico

© Cameron Karsten Photography in Oaxaca, Mexico

© Cameron Karsten Photography in Oaxaca, Mexico

© Cameron Karsten Photography in Oaxaca, Mexico

© Cameron Karsten Photography in Oaxaca, Mexico

The Unstoppable Grads of Seattle Colleges 2020

Seattle Colleges is a place I call home, as well as a wonderful client with enriching creative projects. Last month we visited 8 different locations to film and photograph recent graduates. Below are the finals, as well as a link to the video created by Grant, Jordan and the crew of C+C Marketing in Seattle, WA

 Watch the film – Seattle Colleges Class of 2020: Unstoppable

2019 Pictorial ReCap

Good times all around. A few selects from 2019 including clients Discovery Channel, Grundens, Sage, Patagonia, Danner Boots, Cornerstone Ranches, and more from the Pacific Northwest to Belize and Costa Rica. Here’s to another year and more relationships being built. Visit http://www.cameronkarsten.com for more:

Over the Salal Fields And Far Away

© Cameron Karsten Photography of surfing the Washington coast, Pacific NorthwestIt was dripping; the sun shrouded by cloud, the cloud returning to damp where dew ran with rain and rain soaked into thick rivulets of sand. All these paths led to a tempest of gray salt, growling together as an always-temperamental Northwest coastline. We shouldered our loads, pack mules down scree slopes, each step sinking into the shifting earth.

The first day was different. From the golden sun reflecting off a classic green pearl, a perfect wave was ridden with friends yelping like small creatures in a wide world. Slowly, in its own time, the swell built into a fortress of play. A soft offshore breeze told ancient stories of the last days of summer, like secrets spoken only to the two of us out that morning.

© Cameron Karsten Photography of surfing the Washington coast, Pacific NorthwestWalking off the beach, skin tensing from the drying salt water, we turned and marveled at the temptation we left, but the promise of additional companions and a new adventure forced us back through the thick fern fronds and salal fields that guarded those secrets. We pulled into a freshwater bay to meet our other companions: Sam from Ocean Beach and Kris from hometown.

As we spread our gear across the gravel, we reveled in what was just had and the anticipation of what was to come—a sea of imagination. Tents and tarps; jackets and neoprene layers; stoves, filtration systems and amenities; all stuffed into bear canisters and assertively packed within the confines of four new SealLine expedition packs. Canoes and paddles, boards, wetsuits, a small wooden door, screwdriver and hardware made the trip. Finally, amenities for the sun and the cold: beer.

© Cameron Karsten Photography of surfing the Washington coast, Pacific NorthwestEach canoe weighed heavy in the soft mud as the four of us laughed, organized and inspected everything. We had the gear and a malleable plan. Now we needed waves. Under a milky afternoon, still with high, wafting clouds, we embarked waters teaming with perch, pikeminnow, coastal cutthroats and kokanee to a point of cache and then further across deeper waters into the middle of nowhere.

This was our annual expedition in search of far-away waves—often not there, often there. We scanned bays and points, searched maps and planned routes. One year the Lost Coast Range, another south to Baja. This year we wanted to stay home and discover the little-known secrets of our wild backyard.

On far western shores we moored the vessels under thick drooping cedar boughs and trekked into the shadows, dusk above us and wet bog beneath. We slipped on decaying boardwalks, falling sideways and forward as we toddled, drawn to the roar of a thundering ocean a mile away. Our boards acted like crutches under our arms and our thick waterproof packs like mattresses. As the trail rose and fell, twisting through the forest terrain and between protective eight-foot-tall salal fields, we were in a florist’s dreamland, as well as our own. Suddenly, darkness gorged upon the remaining light, birds fell still and night insects began their choir. Surf hissed as it crashed upon salty shores. Thousands upon thousands of pounds of hypertension breaking, tumbling over and over one another. The animals, the dripping canopy, the ancient muttering streams tinged brown by Fall leaves was drowned by excitement.

© Cameron Karsten Photography of surfing the Washington coast, Pacific NorthwestCamp One welcomed us with an evening storm that lulled us to sleep with the soft, synthetic patter of raindrops on nylon. As we emerged into the light of day two, all was sodden, the leaching wetness of winter – the rotting season. Nothing remained dry outside our expedition packs. And as we cooked packets of instant oatmeal, we scanned the angry horizon for signs of contour.

North was a mark on the map, a point, as well as lingering deer tame enough to comb with a pick. South was a bay with few signs of humanity and, straight west, into the heart of the Pacific was a madness of gray matter combusting without pattern, ending in a wall of white frigidity. So we checked north. We ventured south. And came to the conclusion over much deliberation, pseudo-scientific nonsense and amateur forecasting that south was the answer to our dreams. There, miles from camp we witnessed a clean, A-frame peak dashing itself upon a hardened black shoals, falling to rest after its long journey. So we tore like madmen, over silky seaweed and mounds of purple bear scat back to camp in a rush to beat a pulsing tide. Packed a little lighter, we double-time over bleached-tree graveyards, through gaping stone holes and slippery cavernous passages.

© Cameron Karsten Photography of surfing the Washington coast, Pacific NorthwestCamp Two was a sand bank, a small cove of great fortune that was ours, alone, for four days. From this vantage point, we watched the sea. Corduroy lines of swell marched like infantry. That clean A-frame was gone, replaced by a meaty little slab.

Wet in the water and wet ashore, the weather carpeted the coastline each passing day. We ate food the consistency of porridge and drank small cups of instant coffee. Shaded by the rainforest above, picking our way through fern and salal below, we scoured for any bits of dry wood we could find. At the end, we divvied the remaining food and gear between us to lighten our return. Mosses and lichen draped over any uncovered surface.

© Cameron Karsten Photography of surfing the Washington coast, Pacific NorthwestThese instances were often the most memorable, the time away from time where scrutiny of an industrial civilization weighed weight upon a ticking time bomb. Omniscient and harmonious was the mind, free to soar in solitude like the eagles above, and glide like a Pelican upon the updraft of rolling sea. We found more scat; bear, raccoon, coyote. We stepped over the skins of dogfish and collected Japanese plastics from disasters far away and seemingly long ago. Then we ended.

© Cameron Karsten Photography of surfing the Washington coast, Pacific NorthwestThe morning of our departure, the sun broke and alighted our long playful shadows across the sand as we slipped northward towards Camp One, back through the fern forest and salal fields to a freshwater point. We had work to do.

As we paddled towards our cache near a hollowed-out burnt cedar remnant, abandoned hundreds of years ago by the People of the Canoe, a fire blazed in a clear-cut swathe just over the park boundary lines. It filled the lake’s reflection an even deeper brown, eerily reminding us of the forgotten emptiness that now lies still on the coastal banks, watching the same shoal morph and erode with the ocean’s power.

© Cameron Karsten Photography of surfing the Washington coast, Pacific NorthwestWe slid onto the sandy beach, found our stores of wood and hardware, beer and fire, and set to work. Skyler repaired the lean-to with his fashioned door. Sam built a hot fire of cedar wood and lava rock, while Kris fashioned a shovel to carry the stones from heat to shelter. Over the course of three hours we took turns bathing in the sweet sweat of a traditional sauna, removing all traces of bitter cold from our bones. And then just before dusk we set off for home, just as we had done days prior when we entered the shadows of fern and salal that guarded the undiscovered surf in the wilds of our backyard.

Book published! “Human/Nature” by The Nature Conservancy

Thrilled to announce the publication of a recent book project with The Nature Conservancy! Over a course of 12 months, I traveled around Washington State to showcase how humans interact with nature in relationships both recreational and commercial. Here are a few selects, as well as a link to purchase. All proceeds support The Nature Conservancy in Washington State: Human/Nature

Wind + Energy

Wind is a powerful thing. Why not harness it? With luck and great joy I had the chance to visit the Kittitas Wind Farm in Eastern Washington.